This image from the Flint Water Study shows water samples from a Flint, Mich. home. The bottles were collected, from left, on Jan. 15 (bottles 1 and 2), Jan. 16, and Jan. 21, 2015.
What is the Flint water crisis?
Earlier this month Rick Snyder, the governor of Michigan, declared a state of emergency in the County of Genesee and the City of Flint because of elevated levels of lead found in its general water supply. The governor declared the emergency because the contaminated drinking water poses a serious health risk to the residents of that area. The adverse health effects of lead exposure in children and adults are well documented, notes the Centers for Disease Control, and no safe blood lead threshold in children has been identified.
The crisis has been blamed on a failure of government at all levels. As Washington Post reporters Lenny Bernstein and Brady Dennis wrote, “Local, state and federal officials — including the top Environmental Protection Agency administrator in the Midwest and Michigan’s Republican governor, Rick Snyder — are accused of ignoring, denying or covering up problems that left thousands of children exposed to toxic lead in their drinking water for about 18 months.”
To date, four government officials—one from the City of Flint, two from the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, and one from the Environmental Protection Agency—have resigned over the mishandling of the crisis.
What caused the water crisis?
According to the U.S. Census, 40.1 percent of the population of Flint, Michigan is living in poverty, making it the second most poverty-stricken city in the nation for its size. The poverty of its residents combined with mandatory spending on former city workers (retirees from the city government are taking 20 percent of all city spending) has led to a financial crisis that has put the city into emergency receivership.
In an attempt to save money, the city council voted in 2013 to purchase water from the Karegnondi Water Authority (KWA) rather than from the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department (DWSD). KWA was not expected to be completed until the end of 2016, so the city decided to rely on its backup, the Flint River.
The Flint River, though, contains high levels of chlorine, which is highly corrosive to iron and lead—materials used widely in the pipes carrying water in Flint.
How did the lead get into the drinking water?